Postoperative Treatment of Oropharyngeal Cancer in the Era of Human Papillomavirus

Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2019 Feb 15;20(3):20. doi: 10.1007/s11864-019-0620-y.


Despite an overall decline in the incidence of tobacco-related cancers, human papillomavirus (HPV)-related head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) of the oropharynx is on the rise. The prognosis of HPV-related oropharynx cancer (HPV-OPC) is generally favorable even in locoregionally advanced disease, and a variety of treatment options are available. Though the primary treatment modality of choice remains definitive radiation (RT), surgical resection followed by appropriate adjuvant therapy remains an option, especially in those patients who may not be favorable candidates for definitive radiotherapy, particularly when concurrent chemotherapy is warranted. Upfront resection may offer a chance to avoid the well-described acute toxicity and long-term morbidity associated with concurrent chemoradiotherapy (CRT) in select patients. Despite the overall favorable prognosis of HPV-OPC, indications for therapy remain unchanged from the recommendations for treatment in tobacco-related OPC and other anatomic sites of HNSCC. Ongoing studies assessing deintensification strategies in HPV-OPC are focused on maintaining high cure rates while improving treatment-related toxicities. Currently, no clear guidelines exist for the choice of primary therapy, surgical resection, or RT in patients with HPV-OPC, highlighting the need for multidisciplinary discussion and review of the individual patient before selecting the most appropriate curative modality. This review seeks to present the data for postoperative therapy in HPV-related oropharyngeal HNSCC.

Keywords: Head and neck cancer; Human papillomavirus; Oropharyngeal cancer; Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemoradiotherapy
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Humans
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Papillomavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Postoperative Care / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / pathology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome